Participants in a smoking cessation programme who tweet each other regularly are more successful at kicking the habit, according to a new study.
Researchers at University of California, Irvine and Stanford University found that subjects in smoking cessation programmes had much higher rate of success when exposed to social media messages that encourage them to share feelings and experiences with others.
Cornelia Pechmann, professor of marketing at UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business, and Judith J Prochaska, associate professor of medicine at Stanford, found that overall engagement in two consecutive Tweet2Quit groups was high, with 78 per cent of members tweeting their fellow study subjects at least once during the 100-day study.
The average number of tweets per person was 72, and 60 per cent tweeted past the 30-day mark. One group had a smoking cessation rate of 42 per cent. Using lessons gleaned from that trial, researchers tweaked the automessaging process, and the other group had a success rate of 75 per cent.
“Our results indicate that incorporating social media-delivered automessages from trained counsellors was effective in promoting smoking cessation,” Pechmann said.
“The twice-daily messages encouraged people to tweet their group members, which made them more accountable for quitting,” Pechmann said.
Members of the Tweet2Quit’s two closed, 20-person groups communicated online via Twitter for 100 days.
Participants each received a free supply of nicotine patches, along with daily automated text messages.
They were encouraged to use a Web-based guide to develop a cessation plan and were asked to tweet their group at least once a day about their progress.
There were no expert facilitators in the groups; the smokers themselves supported one another.
However, the daily automessages encouraged and directed peer-to-peer discussions, and distinct tweeting spikes occurred when the messages were sent, at 9 am and 5 pm.
“The Twitter environment created a sort of party dynamic,” Pechmann said.
“That’s especially important for social smokers. In addition, group leaders naturally emerged, facilitating the online conversations. These leaders played a critical role in keeping people engaged,” Pechmann added.
Several types of tweets related positively to smoking abstinence. The more people shared about setting a quit date, using nicotine patches, countering roadblocks, utilising self-rewards, believing in themselves and feeling pride, the more likely they were to remain smoke-free.
Support, accountability, advice and bragging rights are a few of the benefits that make social media a promising platform for self-help groups, Pechmann noted.
However, while health-related online forums, blogs and websites can be informative, they lack the instantaneous interaction of Twitter.
The findings were published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.